Exercise Addiction

Exercise Addiction

Defining Exercise Addiction

Although exercise addiction has not been listed as a medical disorder, it can be harmful and as addictive as substance abuse. It can be classified as a behavioral addiction and is often marked by a compulsive and obsessive reaction towards the urge to workout. While most people do not consider this as a negative condition, excessive workout (to the extent of obsession) can not only be bad for health, but it can also result in deterioration of personal relationships.

Exercise addiction can become maladaptive; it can lead the person to compromise on taking rest in order to fulfill his/her urge to workout. While exercising has a number of health benefits; indulging in excessive exercising without taking proper rest can result in a number of ailments, even cardiac arrest. It involves increasing the workout, panicking if a workout is missed, or skipping out on spending time with loved ones to exercise. Patients get an unusual high when they lift heavier weights than normal people or run longer or faster than most others in the gym. Some other non-substance addictions Work Addiction, Internet Addiction, Gambling Addiction etc.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Missing important social obligations and family get-togethers in order to work out
  • Reducing personal hobbies and social activities such as meeting with friends or playing sports with others in order to free up some time for exercising
  • Feeling irritable or depressed about missing workout
  • Achieving a “high” while exercising and during the first few hours after exercising
  • Working out in spite of sickness or a physical injury
  • Exercising extra on weekends and during any extra time off
  • Hearing complaints about the amount of exercise received
  • If a history of depression or anxiety is prevalent and working out is a means of escape

Causes and Risk Factors

Like other addictions, exercise addiction may be caused by monoamine secretion in the “pleasure” centers of the brain. There is an unprecedented increase in the dopamine levels of patients when they workout. Over a period of time, this dopamine secretion starts becoming “addictive” and the patient’s subconscious “learns” that exercising gives him/her a “high”. With time, this behavior turns into addiction that may have unprecedented and unforeseen withdrawal symptoms.

Genetics may also play an important role in this addiction. Individuals who have had a family history of depression and addiction may develop such behavior disorders. Generally, people who have had a history of addiction try to watch for any signs of substance abuse, but overlook non-substance addiction.

People are exposed to certain risks such as:

  • Aggression
  • Violence
  • Distress
  • Depression
  • Social alleviation
  • Substance abuse, especially to drugs such as muscle building steroids


Exercise addiction is tough to treat because of two reasons: first, most people do not realize they are addicted to exercising in and of itself and second, exercising is accepted as a “healthy” practice as opposed to a negative medical condition. Because of these reasons, people may need to undergo counseling and cognitive behavior therapy. In a controlled environment such as a rehabilitation center that specializes in treating behavior disorders, people are shown the negative effects of being addicted to working out.

Patients may face withdrawal symptoms including aggression and restlessness. Therefore, they may benefit from the treatment offered in a rehabilitation center in order to make the most of their journey to recovery.


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